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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Criminal Sentence 513: Presidential Boo Boo

From today's paper (a quote from Obama about Bush, a Medal of Honor winner):

"His humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit."

Perhaps correct subject-verb agreement deserves some recognition, too!

"His humility" and "his decency" are two things, so they "reflect," not "reflects."


Anonymous said...

Even though each attribute is individually modified, the author intends them to be considered as a unit, as a representation of a single quality, his "goodness." I think you can get away with either a singular or plural sense -- it's discretionary.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

It's true that certain combinations can be construed as a unit, as in "Steak and eggs is my favorite meal" (not really).
Humility and decency don't seem to be a unit, at least in my opinion. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I agree plural is correct.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am back to either singular or plural is correct. Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage in the sub-section "agreement, subject-verb compound subjects" discusses this exact issue. When the compound nouns describe "a unitary notion" (in this case his goodness or the American spirit)a singular interpretation is permissible.

This would make a good essay for Grammar Girl.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Good idea!